‘We will rise to the occasion’ – Ireland U-21 ready for Israel playoff challenge

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IRELAND U21 team captain Conor Coventry says his side will rise to the occasion at home to Israel tonight and take a major step towards a first-ever qualification for the European Championship finals.

here will be a ring of steel around Tallaght Stadium for the first leg of that Euro 2023 playoff (7pm), with increased levels of security around Israel to cope with any potential demonstrations surrounding the political situation.

This is the first major game involving Israel in Ireland since an U21 qualifier in 2017, though Israel did also compete at the U17 Euro finals in Ireland in 2017 when the squad and staff were protected by their own security staff.

Having first competed in the Euro qualifiers back in 1986, the Republic’s U21s have never even made a playoff, let alone secured automatic qualification, but with senior cap Aaron Connolly back in the fold and Premier League experience from the likes of Coventry (West Ham) and 17-year-old starlet Evan Ferguson (Brighton), Coventry insists that Jim Crawford’s squad can deal with the pressure.

“It’s not many experiences you get growing up, playing in a two-legged game, especially not one where we know what’s at stake,” says Coventry.

“One, that our underage careers could be over and, two, a place at the Euros. It’s going to be a bigger occasion and a tough one, but we are experienced as a group, we know each other well, it’s just the same as always, we will rise to the occasion.

“The main thing is the togetherness of the group, and I think the personalities, we’ve been down and out a couple of times and we’ve come back and if it happens again in the play-off, we’ve been there, we’ve felt it. I think there is a real never say die attitude in the group. This is somewhere we wanted to be and everyone is really excited and we’ve put a lot of work into it and now we get the chance to achieve what we want to achieve.”

Manager Crawford, who says he has put talks about a new contract with the FAI to one side so he can focus on the playoff, has warned of the threat posed by Israel but says his side have been boosted by the return to the U21 camp of senior cap Connolly.

“Aaron has come in and he is keen to make an impression and he has certainly stamped his authority in training. He came in, he missed a game with his club because of a tight groin. He has been training really well and he is looking forward to the two games,” Crawford said.

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